New worker co-operative @Barod_CIC is an inspirational example of people with a learning disability setting up a social enterprise
Today saw the launch of new worker co-operative Barod at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff. The organisation was helped by Enterprise Mentoring, All Wales People First and the Wales Co-operative Centre amongst others. Barod has four employee directors, two with learning disabilities and two without. At the launch, Joe Powell, Director of All Wales People First, explained why more needs to be done to support people with learning disabilities to run their own enterprises…
“Hello, my name is Joe Powell and I’ve been the National Director of the self-advocacy organisation, All Wales People First for just over a year now, following a nationwide campaign to appoint a person with a Learning Disability to head the organisation. This was to ensure we are truly member led and are true to our People First principles.
I personally have a social disability, which has caused me a life time of social isolation, depression and at times despair. Yes ladies and gentleman, I am a supporter of Sunderland football club.
My other disability, Asperger Syndrome, does not cause me nearly as much difficulty. When managed and the right support is available there is no reason why I and others who come under the Learning Disability label cannot live as full and as meaningful lives as anyone else in the community. The most disabling aspect (in my own personal opinion) of having a learning disability is the society we live in, the way people with learning disabilities are stereotyped and the prejudices showed towards us because of generations of ignorance which have often remained unchallenged. But what has any of this got to do with Barod workers co-operative you may ask.
In my opinion self-advocacy is not just about giving people with Learning Disabilities the skills and opportunities to voice their political and personal life interests – it is also in taking an active part in our communities and showing people in society, not only our worth but the fact our communities need us. We bring valuable skills and abilities to society. Helping people with Learning Disabilities to access employment, isn’t a tokenistic or politically correct thing to do, it is essential for both the quality of life of the people with Learning Disabilities and their feelings of self-worth, but for society as a whole.
Even before the current austerity measures, we had a ridiculous situation in which people like myself and Barod directors Jonathan and Alan, were effectively retired at the age of eighteen, a situation which neither suited ourselves or an already burdened benefits system. But unfortunately we have all grown up during a time in which there was little other choice. We could either not work and have full benefits and full support, or we could work with no guarantee we would get the correct workplace support or emotional support and risk being left isolated and in crisis should the right support not be in place. Finding out what you are entitled to could be complicated and at times impossible. It felt to me like it was Hobson’s choice. I personally always felt a sense of inadequacy, not really fulfilling a role in society. My ambition was always to pay tax, something which made many people laugh. But what many people who work take for granted is the fact that paying tax offers a person dignity and a sense of making a contribution to the world we live in. People like me don’t want hand outs, we want equality. Part of equality is in both taking responsibility for our own lives as well as reaping the rewards as contributing citizens. Working for a living offers people with Learning Disabilities an amazing opportunity to achieve this. And indeed for equality to work people with learning disabilities themselves have to take responsibility and take the opportunities that are offered to them.
Long before I was in post, the board of All Wales People first discussed the lack of opportunities for people with Learning Disabilities to access employment. Traditionally the only real opportunities for employment for people with learning disabilities were in catering or cleaning. There were (and still are) plenty of social enterprises about but we didn’t feel they were necessarily allowing people with Learning Disabilities to play a key role in the management as we’d like. The problems with many social enterprises were that they offered people with Learning Disabilities menial tasks with little responsibility or work place equality and were often dependent on grant aid to sustain them. We thought Barod should be different. Those who were part of the initial discussions about the shape that Barod would take, wanted to ensure that people with learning disabilities were involved in setting up the social enterprise as directors, rather than just as beneficiaries. Indeed the four directors of Barod are made up of two members of People First groups, who have Learning Disabilities and two who don’t. All of whom bring very different, but very relevant, experience to the organisation.
Having established the nature of Barod and its commercial identity, we then had lots of discussions about how closely it should be linked to All Wales People First. Lots of working models were presented to the Board who eventually agreed on the Workers’ Co-op model and that it should be separate to All Wales People First so that it could remain self-sufficient and keep its own independent identity and autonomy. And indeed this is where Barod stands today.
The involvement of Jonathan Richards and Alan Armstrong as People First members was a natural extension of their National Council roles, as pioneers of the great new world and as people who could give real member experience to the working model. Mal Cansdale has worked in the past with the Shaw Trust – a supported employment organisation – as a job coach as well as being an experienced member of staff within various People First organisations. Anne Collis has an extensive experience and reputation for the work she has done on research and accessibility, most notably with Easy Read, and played a key role in the development of important Easy Read documents such as the recently launched ‘Clear and Easy’ packs launched in the Summer. Each of the four directors have equal status and equal responsibility within Barod and each are to be commended for realising today’s milestone, in being in a position to launch Barod as a workers co-operative – one which hopefully will lead the way as a good model for others to follow and to give hope for many people with Learning Disabilities to feel they have something to strive for in the future, and not live a life spent in their bedrooms, meaningless day services or tokenistic employment. Barod offers people real hope and hope in this day and age, is worth its weight in gold for people with Learning Disabilities.
Barod workers co-operative has succeeded purely because of the hard work and endeavour of the four directors. All Wales People First can take no (and would never try to claim) credit for the enormous progress they have made. But we do share the enormous pride in their achievement. As National Director of All Wales People First I would like to reiterate our commitment to the Directors of Barod, as set out in our Business Plan to support Barod workers co-operative in any way we can to help them to continue raising their profile and to gain opportunities to enhance their already blossoming reputation. I would like to end my speech by offering our enormous congratulations to the directors of Barod for all of their hard work and for taking Barod to where it is today.